Recapping 2018: Milwaukee Brewers Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Milwaukee Brewers Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason.

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI LAA PIT CHC SEA ATL NYM TBR COL PHI

10 – 1: MIL

It feels like it was just yesterday that the Brewers made a bold move to trade for Zack Greinke, but that was all the way back in 2011, which is the last time the Brewers won as many as they did this past season. In between you can see a team more eager to run a higher payroll, but never quite getting back to those heights until now. Despite those higher payrolls, pegged to 2018 dollars, the team made an about face in 2017 as the realization that talent trumps money took hold. The rebuild was lightning-quick due to a front office with a keen eye on what matters and the guts to do the hard thing that can stave off the more longer term pure bottom outs that others have relied on recently. Three straight years of higher wins is easier to achieve when you’re starting at 73, but now the real tough part comes as wins become much harder to add and strong seasons that much tougher to followup. A core of talent on and off the field has keyed this turnaround and what looks like a strong club going forward.

Perhaps surprisingly, the team was carried more by the arms than the bats. Outside of that late season bubble the team’s pitching looked like an average or better unit for the rest of the season. If you’re going to have a rough patch then prior to the deadline is a good time as a team can still make moves to shore up a developing weakness. Plugging Gio Gonzalez and Joakim Soria in filled the emerging holes nicely, but Corey Knebel getting healthy and effective went a long way, too, for a team that displayed a heavy hand when it came to pitcher management. The bullpen carried much of the load led by a true star, but also several other reliable options. This piecemeal approach led to only three guys facing more than 600 batters with Junior Guerra and Jhoulys Chacin looking like above average starters and Chase Anderson keeping his team in the game and soaking up innings if not being quite as good as those other two.

As mentioned, the Brewers were rather unconventional last year with their very best pitchers also being those they could unleash in moments of high leverage later in games, and usually for more than an inning. Nobody exemplifies the modern reliever better than Josh Hader who also happened to be their best weapon. In nearly 42.0% of his appearances he went a full two innings or more usually when the leverage was bubbling. The secret to the sauce is that he strikes dudes out like crazy, though you can see some slippage over the course of the year from the ridiculous near 60% rate at the start of the year to a low point that most guys will never approach of roughly 30% before a bounceback. The walks were average or worse, but not so bad as to cut into the effectiveness of the punchouts. Contact is often in the air with a good deal of that looking harmless, though the nitro zone does show some pokes when batters are able to let the heater do all the work. The continual erosion over the year in his true production would seem a bit worrisome for a pitcher this heavily used, and adding in how incredibly hard he throws there may not be a long career here, but it sure is fun watching Hader shove in the present and near future.

Josh Hader

Hader might have been the best, but he was not alone as a well above average reliever. Next up was Jeremy Jeffress who on any other team would be a darling adored by many, though his own past transgressions might make him less cuddly for most, too. Wildly enough, he had nearly the same number of batters faced as Hader, though almost never saw a second inning. This tells us that they liked Hader as the every other day guy, but were less afraid to use Jeffress back-to-back knowing his stints would be shorter. True production shows consistently better than average performance, while this showed up in actuality as an incredible start that came in worse than expected later on and only marginally better than the average. The strikeout rate isn’t quite on Hader’s level, because few are, but persistently stuck right around the 30% level with walks presenting as less of an issue. Exit velocity did tend to trend up for him, though batters find it extremely difficult to carry harder velocity to the more ideal launch angles where the damage can really hurt.

Jeremy Jeffress

Relievers are often seen as fungible due to the volatility of production, but the bigger concern is the injuries that tend to follow pouring your guts out on a near nightly basis for half the year. Last year, it was Corey Knebel that was the darling reliever coming in a little better than Hader and only trailing a couple of dynamite starters for the club. A Spring Training knee issue quickly morphed into hamstring problems that put Knebel on the shelf causing him to miss nearly all of April and a bit of May. When he came back he looked fairly ordinary with the strikeouts showing up pretty well, but showing troubles with the walk. By the end of the season, though, he was mostly back to normal with an amped up strikeout rate over 40% doing a better job of offsetting the higher than average, but now a bit more manageable walk rate. Hard contact was also an issue with several pokes in and around the nitro zone, which may have been a byproduct of the command and control concerns.

Corey Knebel

Moving along to a couple of traditional starters, sort of, we get to Junior Guerra and the reclamation project Wade Miley. Guerra was a traditional starter until poor performance later in the year saw a move to the bullpen. You can see how his strikeouts diminished over the course of the year, and after a big hump in walks those moved mostly in lockstep still giving him that 2:1 ratio that is necessary for success as a starter. The move to shorter stints really helped his stuff play up as you can see the shelf in his exit velocity as well as improvement in expected performance even if actual spiraled well out of control.

Coming into the season Wade Miley was an afterthought, a guy on his last legs after several others had tried to coax good performance from him only to be left feeling unsatisfied. An early gap had his expectations looking as poor as ever, but actual coming in very nicely. When things met up a short time later it was on the good side of average and on the way to a wonderful place for any pitcher to sit. He was legitimately quite good over that second half of his season. Dropping the walk rate from obscene levels early, always his biggest issue in my prior viewings, while flirting with the strikeout average helped somewhat. His best quality, however, was an ability to induce significantly weaker contact as the year went along. This came with lower trajectories, and you can see he did a great job avoiding the out-and-out no doubt shots. It’s hard to say that this level of improvement is replicable going forward, but whatever they found seemed to take hold and could lead to better performance than you would otherwise think going forward.

Junior Guerra

Wade Miley

Three more guys that profile as back of rotation or swingman types were Brent Suter, Freddy Peralta and Brandon Woodruff. Suter was around the average before a mid-season tweak unlocked another portal. Weaker contact and more strikeouts were the result with little walk change, though his angle did increase a good deal. Unfortunately, he blew out his ulnar collateral ligament requiring Tommy John surgery and is no longer a spring chicken. A shame as he looked pretty useful, but will miss all of 2019. Peralta and Woodruff are a bit more similar as they are younger pitchers still acclimating to the league, and providing some usefulness.

To call Peralta volatile is an understatement as many of his outings can simply be graded by how many walks he allowed. Acceptable levels on the tails were short-lived with the bulky middle showing an atrocious ability to avert the walk. Absurd early strikeout rates mellowed out to merely above average as batter started to get more comfortable. An extreme fly-baller, the exit velocity increase over the course of the season likely turned things from harmless to more hurtful. He looks like more of a swingman despite the team using him mostly as a starter. Perhaps the opposite can be said for Brandon Woodruff? He made four spot starts with three looking fine and one being a disaster, however, as we can see below he was quite good this year with a persistent gap of overperformance that maybe you can buy due to his ability to keep the ball down. Walks were a small concern, and one that would likely become more impactful if he were see a heavier workload as a traditional starter. It would seem he has found his level having success in his role.

Brent Suter

Freddy Peralta

Brandon Woodruff

Last winter, while many fans were crying in their malted hops over the team’s “failure” to sign Yu Darvish, this analyst smirked mightily that they had already signed something similar in Jhouly Chacin at much more favorable terms. This here site saw him as an above average pitcher backed by sustainably good work avoiding bad contact even if it came at the expense of a few extra walks. The walks came down slightly with the contact getting a little worse, but still well better than average. His actual production was consistently better than his average or better, for the most part, true production showing a guy that can be a middle of rotation option or better when you factor in the workload he is capable of providing without causing (much) slippage. He’ll probably give up a few more dingers next year, and maybe look a little worse overall, but should still present as a good option most days.

Jhoulys Chacin

Even the lesser performers were mostly fine and approximated league average rates for starting pitchers. Zach Davies missed June, July and August owing to a shoulder issue, but showed some ability around that. He looks like another butterfly guy in a shorter sample with initial, averagey overperformance in the face of worse expectations flipped in the later part of his year. The return in September appears to showcase things being mostly ok as his strikeout rate got back to early season heights around the norm, and he got back to keeping the walks below the average. Commendable if he pitched through the issue before succumbing as that is what the data shows. Chase Anderson, however, got a full season to help soak up outs and innings. The prior year saw him post fantastic numbers after getting a career-long homer issue under wraps, but it looks like this past year saw some reversion. He was mostly average or worse by expectations, but with an outstanding run in real life over the middle of the season. The strikeouts reached crescendo, the walks were starting to fall off, but it was mostly mirage as it came with a spike in exit velocity that he had to trade back the strikeouts to whittle back down. His volume is useful on a staff with no superstar name starter, but this next should be something of a make or break season for a guy that has had plenty of chances, but never really ran with them.

Zach Davies

Chase Anderson

It was the offense that undone a surprisingly effect pitching unit the year prior, and keen ability to fix that glaring hole with a couple of star-level players that helped the Brewers makeup close to 75 runs from 2017 to this past season. The additions were not enough on their own to make this an above average unit upon adjusting for the wonderful hitting environment as they looked fairly pedestrian at times. Much of that was over the first two-thirds of the season as occasional forays into the land of plenty were more than offset by the longer stretches where the looks worse than average. In-season churn and some deadline deals helped set the team up for the incredible finish where they looked average or better throughout on their way to taking the division with the National League’s best record. The additions have mostly walked after the season, but the core of a dynamic offense remains in place, perhaps, waiting for one more augment that can help them duplicate their sudden success.

The team was absolutely carried by offseason trade addition Christian Yelich who would go on to win the Most Valuable Player award on the back of that insane close to the season. He was an average or better performer for the entirety of the year, but more good than great. There was a fairly prolonged spike in his actual despite little difference in expected, but then he found yet another gear to propel his candidacy. Taking his strikeouts from averagey to much better with a corresponding massive spike in walks once pitchers got wind of the beast they were tasked with getting out. While exit velocity did wane, somewhat, over that stretch, he saw a much more impactful pick up in his launch angle that saw his still hard contact start to display the kind of loft that can carry the ball out of the yard. He was showing similar levels early on before falling back on old habits, but if this is something he can control going forward you’re looking at a guy going from a good player on a great deal to, arguably, the best combination of production and cost in the game.

Christian Yelich

Backing the lefty bat were a couple of righties who are no strangers to the middle of a lineup even if the first, Jesus Aguilar, emerged out of an abyss, and the second, Ryan Braun, hasn’t deserved that right as much these past few years. Aguilar showed little platoon split, while Braun raked lefties as good as anyone in the league with more pedestrian performance versus the same-handers. The model saw Aguilar as a solid bet for regression coming in his second full season, but both perspectives met in the middle on contact and he did well to shrink his strikeout rate that was a touch high. Prolonged underperformance later in the year might show a player that had lost his legs, a bit, in his longest season to date with declining launch angle and walk rates the main manifestation. It did come with a slightly lower strikeout rate held all gains. A smart team, they will likely find ways to give him a bit more rest in 2019, which should pay dividends in his performance line.

Braun hardly needs an introduction to baseball fans as he has been the monument casting shadows as the sun has risen and set only to come up again during his tenure as a Brewer. Average or better performance over the first half led to a takeoff in the second where his actual didn’t quite get there, but did maintain at an above average rate for the most part. Better zone control looks like the driving force here, but he still hits the ball pretty hard with much of that coming on a line or creeping it’s way into the bottom of the nitro zone. He held his own against righties, but the massive gap shows a guy that might be starting to age into more of a platoon role that should help him stay healthy and productive through the long season. If he can show any ability at first base it would help the team manage the workloads of both of these sluggers in a league that has yet to embrace the designated hitter.

Jesus Aguilar

Ryan Braun

Two other important players were the corner infielder that even saw some run at second base, Travis Shaw, and the gifted center fielder, Lorenzo Cain, who’s offensive production looks solid for a two-way contributor. Shaw came over in one of the great fleecings of the past decade, and has since made his name as a guy that can control the zone and flex real pop when given the opportunity. There was a lull in the middle, but around it you see well above average production that he, at times, struggled to get to completely. This could be an example of the shift hurting a pull-heavy player, and the lull could be an attempt to combat that before going back to being frustrated, but also productive. He walks a ton, and does so without having to run up the strikeouts, though the close to the season did see a persistently higher level. The exit velocity isn’t world-beating, but he gets the ball in the air quite often, and especially so at those higher exit velocities leading to a cornucopia of nitro zone pokes.

Cain is much more the Steady Eddie type of contributor who rarely wiles out, but can always be counted on to do something positive. Unlike Shaw, his ability to competently use the whole field coupled with his wheels help him overperform sustainably, which is something that also reared it’s head in 2017 when he was still Royal. Watching the player you uncover a remarkable ability to shoot chili peppers up Lee Jantzen’s ass or hit the ball down the first baseline for the uninitiated. The strong contact, albeit often at lower angles, plays very well with his skillset, and in conjunction with his extremely strong walk rate allows him to be the prototypical top of the order hitter that sets the table for all those other mashers.

Travis Shaw

Lorenzo Cain

For a good chunk of the season the team was getting above average production from Eric Thames, but he fell off a cliff towards the end of the season due to a massive strikeout issue being exploited further. He can muscle the ball out as shown by his spray, but the whiff turned down the volume on all that loud contact. When the team started to get the sense something was wrong the team turned toward deadline addition Mike Moustakas to provide that lefty thump at the expense of the walk. Mous was around the average during his tenure with a bit of overperformance upon first switching leagues before things settled in. Like Thames, he puts the ball in the air a ton with a good number of mishit balls turning into easy pop outs, but also enough pokes to help balance the scales.

Eric Thames 

Mike Moustakas

The catchers, Manny Pina and Erik Kratz, provided similar contributions, though Pina did better on a rate basis that helped justify the lion’s share of the work. Pina was average or worse with a stronger lean towards the former over the back half of his season, which is pretty good for a catcher. He doesn’t walk much, but also strikes out around the average, and surprisingly, that better second half saw much lighter contact. Those more softly hit balls, though, come at a more productive angle as you can see a small forest of balls in the swoosh zone to the left of the spray. Kratz has long been the dream for many fans as a lefty-swinging catcher and all around badass. He even became a cult sensation with some heroics down the stretch and in the playoffs with several well-timed base hits. Putting the ball in play often is a good start, and with so much of his production coming against righties he will continue to be the platooner’s dream. Despite both players being in-house for next season the team’s signing of Yasmani Grandal, probably the best catcher in baseball, will relegate these guys to a very small role if not in AAA or elsewhere.

Manny Pina

Erik Kratz

The bottom three guys stayed the same from year to year with Arcia particularly stinking it up, and Villar heading to Baltimore in the Jonathan Schoop deal. Hernan Perez continue to underwhelm a bit if you prefer offense, but hits lefties somewhat ok considering his ability to play all over. The real faller here was Domingo Santana who was the best hitter on the team in 2017, but quickly proved unable to follow up that success this past year. Abhorrent strikeout rates continued, but he lost a bit of the walk touch as pitchers started to attack him. The falling exit velocity looks like a good indicator for that prescription. He has since been moved to Seattle where the hope is that more consistent playing time will get him back to being a productive hitter. Though, the glove is amongst the worst in the game so if that performance improves it will likely be without having to play a position.

Domingo Santana

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

 

 

Hernan Perez

Jonathan Villar

Orlando Arcia

Taylor Williams

Jacob Barnes

Corbin Burnes

Dan Jennings

 

Matt Albers

 

 



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